October 14, 2013
Disenchantment with flexible working appears to be ongoing in the tech sector, with a recent report revealing that computing giant HP is following Yahoo’s lead by quietly discouraging staff from working from home. However, more employers than ever are attaching growing importance to making at least some changes to working patterns as a means of managing rising long-term absence levels. In the annual CIPD / Simplyhealth Absence Management, the number of employers introducing small changes, such as later start times, has increased by 20 per cent in the last year alone. Over 70 per cent of organisations report a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement, while a further 46 per cent are using flexible working options to support employees with mental health problems.
After a small decrease reported in last year’s survey, absence is back up to the levels observed in 2011 and 2010, at an average of 7.6 days per employee. Absence levels are highest in the public services sector (8.7 days per employee per year) and lowest in the manufacturing and production sector (6 days per employee per year). Absence levels tend to increase with organisation size, regardless of sector.
Overall, two-thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absences of up to seven days. A fifth is attributed to long-term absences (four weeks or more). There are, however, significant sector differences. Just under half of absence in the public sector is short term, compared with over three-quarters in the private sector. Smaller organisations attribute a higher proportion of their absence to short-term leave compared with larger organisations.
Flexible working patterns are increasingly being used as a tool to manage short-term absence (2013: 62%, 2012: 53%, 2011: 54% and 2010: 51%). This is particularly important given two thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absence. Worryingly a quarter (26%) of organisations say ‘pulling a sickie’ is still a common cause of short-term absence, which is an increase on last year’s figure of 17 per cent.
Dr. Jill Miller, CIPD Research Adviser and co-author of the report said: “It’s fantastic to see employers recognising the benefits of increased flexible working opportunities. And it’s not just about benefits for employers in terms of being able to attract and retain talented people – over 50 per cent of employees report that flexible working helps them achieve a better work–life balance generally, also citing that it makes them healthier, more productive and reduces the amount of time that they take off sick.
“Changing demographics, including more people with caring responsibilities and the abolition of the default retirement age, means more people are looking to work untraditional hours. Offering more flexible working opportunities also helps to respond to the needs of the UK’s ageing workforce, in which older employees will increasingly need and want to work in different ways and with different hours as they move towards retirement.
“It’s really important for businesses to recognise new ways of working to support a diverse workforce and to retain talent. Hopefully employees will now be able to better balance their work and home demands.”
Helen Dickinson, spokesperson for Simplyhealth UK said: “Getting flexible working right can lead to higher motivation levels, better productivity and increased flexibility. Balancing both the needs of the company and the employee often results in happier and healthier employees and lower absence levels.”
CIPD/Simplyhealth will showcase key findings of the report and explore absence management and employee wellbeing trends on 7 November at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition.